With a 2-1 victory over the Nashville Predators on Monday night, the Vancouver Canucks clinched their second-round series and now await the winner of the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. Ryan Kesler continued to dominate, putting two more assists on the score sheet and furthering his cause to become the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Also, the Sedin brothers made a rare postseason appearance and Roberto Luongo put together one of his best games ever in securing the win for the visiting Canucks.
We’re roughly halfway into the NHL season (the first group of all stars were announced, so it’s fair), which makes it time to take a look at the best and the worst in the league to this point. Who has performed above and below expectations, and who has remained par for the course so far? You have the usual suspects atop the standings, whether it’s Sidney Crosby or his Penguins, but where is Tampa Bay right now if not for Steven Stamkos?
The Russians got another one back. Evgeni Nabokov, the now former goaltender of the San Jose Sharks is going back to his homeland to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the Continental Hockey League. His departure does not hurt the Sharks at all, as they had not offered him a new contract after his former one expired at the end of the 2009-10 NHL season, but it does hurt hockey on the whole, as the KHL has one another small battle in the war for skilled players.
Vancouver lays an egg and Philadelphia survives to battle another game. Pittsburgh squeezes a win out of Montreal and San Jose ousts Detroit in five games. It’s just more of the same incredible stories in these NHL playoffs. Regardless of who has been playing on any given night, this playoff season has not been short on storylines. As the second round of the postseason winds down, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a full two series left to play.
With only six days left in the NHL season, there are still four playoff spots yet to be clinched, and a lot more seeds to be finalized. The Eastern Conference is still pretty open, with Montreal, Boston, Philadelhpia, NY Rangers and Atlanta competing for three spots. We know teams one-through-seven in the Western Conference, but that final place will see the toughest competition, as all of Colorado, Calgary, St. Louis and Anaheim compete for it.
The Colorado Avalanche have got young and got good. After missing the playoffs last season and not advancing past the second round since 2002, the Avs are in the final stages of a rebuild and may squeeze themselves into the playoffs, currently holding on to the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, but they do have some breathing room between them and Calgary. They’re also only five points back of third place, so things are still very much up in the air for Colorado.
The Vancouver Canucks hit a snag in the last two weeks, dropping three of their last four games, something they haven’t done since the beginning of February. Vancouver is still doing fine as far as playoff seeding goes, but the final few weeks of the season is hardly the time to go cold as ice. What’s worse for the Canucks is that when they lose, then tend to lose in regulation play. They have the lowest total of OTL points in the NHL with four.
The playoff picture became a little clearer on Thursday night as the top two seeds in the Western Conference clinched playoff spots. San Jose shut out Dallas 3-0 to both put them out of reach of ninth-place Calgary as well as leapfrog into first place over Chicago. Those same Blackhawks also clinched a berth, despite an 8-3 shellacking at the hands of Columbus. The Flames loss to the Islanders gave Chicago the edge in tie-breaking points.
On Tuesday night, Dallas’ Brandon Segal scored his second game-winning goal of the season against the Sharks. He scored the goal at the 4:30 mark of the second period to put the Stars up 3-0. The score would move to 4-2 before Dallas netted four more in the third in an 8-2 rout of San Jose. But full credit goes to Segal for scoring the game-winner, as that was certainly the moment – less than halfway through the game – where San Jose knew they were finished and mailed in the rest of the night.
The NHL is going into its final weekend of play before they shut down operations for the Olympics. With the amount of players leaving their clubs to represent their home countries, many NHL players will have a chance to play for something a little different, while many more are being given a two-week break from play to recover and become stronger for the playoff stretch. At the same time, trades will also cease across the board, putting the entire spotlight on not-so-snowy British Columbia.
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